By Martti C. Peeples
I became Facebook friends with Shaka Senghor in August 2014. I believe he had posted a request for recommendations of good community-minded females, or something to that effect. Well, the names went to spewing. As the names were listed, he sent friend requests. Friending him was a blessing I did not recognize at the time.
I read his posts and made inquiries about him. We shared a few one-on-one posts. I wanted to meet him because, as a person working with the homeless population, I felt that he could ignite many. I still believe this. So the hunt was on to see if we could meet and share our philosophies. We did not get a chance to meet, but always ended up somewhere near each other. This past spring we were both at Oprah’s Live your Life tour. He had better seats than me, but we were in the same building.
I was and am inspired by Shaka and the work he is doing to bring attention to prison reform. On January 27th of this year, I received an invite to his Monologue show. I quickly accepted, and the countdown began. By February, my attendance was in jeopardy because of a health issue. But God is good, because Shaka had donated tickets to single mothers with children, and I was blessed to receive a donated pair.
My son and I arrived an hour early because I wanted to get as close as I could to this show. Shaka was so hands-on. He came out many times to talk and mingle with the crowd. As the doors opened, my son and I headed to the closet seats, and then it happened. Shaka was walking up the stairs I was heading down. I stopped him gave him my name, hinted that I still wanted a sit-down interview, and posed for a picture.
At 8 pm., the lights dimmed and the show began with him sitting and writing a letter to the family of the man’s life he took. Then Jerrel O’Neal came out as a young Shaka, detailing how he was shot and then imprisoned. The audience was quiet; we were all spellbound by this story. Then Katrina Storm came on stage and went to singing. Her contribution broke the audience down. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The scene when Shaka contemplated suicide really hit home with my son because he had tried numerous times, but, like with Shaka, God said, “not yet,” and “get out of my way, you still have purpose.”
Intermission came, and Shaka again greeted people, signed autographs, and posed for pictures. Act Two began with Dez Cortez playing an imprisoned Shaka, describing how life in prison was hard, how he became a pro at making shanks to protect himself. Then he described how he had met Ebony Roberts and found purpose. Two times he went before the parole board and was twice denied. He was ready to give up, but Ebony said “no,” and on June 22, 2010, Shaka walked out a free man; a free man with purpose, drive, and a future. I am amazed at the work he has accomplished in 5 years of freedom. Maybe because his journey isn’t about him, but about reaching back, up, and around to help bring about prison reform, working with young men to develop them into men who do not need a gun, a teardrop tattoo, or a prison number to be a man.
And this review cannot leave Ebony Roberts out. She said this was her first time producing and putting this production together. If so, Ava Duvernay, you may have some company very soon.
The audience gave the monologue a standing ovation. We all wanted more and are begging for a DVD/Blu-ray. Shaka and Ebony are praying to take this production on the road, and I feel it must. It is beautifully written, acted, and directed, with a musical score that is totally on point.
The highlight was when Shaka brought his son on stage and shared their nightly ritual.
If you have not read his memoir, it is a must read. If you are on Facebook, follow him. If he and Ebony are blessed to take this on the road, please go. If a DVD/Blu-ray is available, buy, buy, buy.
This monologue gets 5 stars from this fortunate audience member.